It is sometimes said that journalism is the first draft of history. If this is the case, then most of today’s journalists will leave a poisonous legacy to future historians. But not this one. Greg Sheridan is currently foreign editor of The Australian and has written extensively and insightfully on Asian affairs for many years. He’s also a man of deep Roman Catholic Christian faith. In recent years, he has increasingly revealed this and his fascination with the intellectual, spiritual and human aspects of Christianity, along with his increasing appreciation of Christian traditions not his, especially evangelical Protestantism. The book is dedicated to his wife Jessie (Jasbir Kaur). He writes: “Without her generous partnership nothing would have come of the ideas behind this book. My debt to her is incalculable.” This is interesting because Mrs Sheridan is a Sikh.
His previous book was God is Good for You: A defence of Christianity in troubled times (2018). Christians: the urgent Case for Jesus in our World has the same structure as God is Good for You, with 12 chapters organized into two parts, the first part presenting his case, the second mostly based on interviews with a wide range of Christians. Indeed, the title of part 2 of the earlier book has become the title of this book and the two books complement each other. Sheridan mentions in the preface to this book that a friend told him that the earlier book “was all well and good, but he didn’t get a strong sense of the living Jesus … who changed history initially by changing the lives of the people closest to him”. He then spent “a year or two inside the New Testament”. He adds, “What fun it was”. So as not to be misunderstood here, he adds that “much of it is awe-inspiring”. He also bluntly avers that “everything about the modernist [aka liberal] project was wrong”.
Part 1 gives us Jesus as Sheridan finds him in the Bible and has also read widely, including Richard Bauckham, Tom Wright, C.S. Lewis, A.N. Wilson, Pope Benedict XVI and John Dickson. There is great freshness and enthusiasm in the first chapter, mainly on the death of Jesus. Chapter 2 follows with the truth of the living Christ. He then explores John’s gospel, “and the Jesus Kanishka [Archbishop Raffel] met there”. Chapters 4 and 5 deal with witnesses to Jesus often neglected by Protestants, namely Mary and Angels. He quotes Anglican theologian Scot McKnight on Mary and what he says himself is not too far from Zwingli’s attitude, that Mary, in her humility, faith and obedience, is a role model for Christians and is an edificatory, not an intercessory figure. He said, “The highest honour which one can give Mary is rightly to acknowledge and honour the goodness of her son revealed to us poor sinners and to run to him in all mercy”.
Part 2 deals with Jesus today. Sheridan starts with Jesus in popular culture, after noting that it has generally turned anti-Christian in the last 50 years. This chapter presents a trenchant critique of the vacuity of secularized popular culture, using a number of works for contrast. He discusses one of my favourite TV cop shows, “Blue Bloods”. It is the flip side of “The Sopranos”: instead of being “good Catholic” gangsters, the Reagan family are Irish-American Catholic cops whose faith energizes and challenges their calling. (Sheridan is wrong to claim lead actor Tom Selleck as a Roman Catholic, but he is a Christian.) The Tom Hanks film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood” had a surprisingly overt and strong Christian message. Somewhat less obvious choices are TV series “Jane the Virgin” and films “Deepwater Horizon” and “Ride like a Girl”. A lover of Tolkien who deprecates the way his Christian faith gets glossed over in film versions of his life and work, Sheridan also discusses writers Marilynne Robinson (“Gilead”), Piers Paul Read, Willa Cather and Christopher Koch.
Chapter 8 discusses three Christian “givers”, Gemma Sisia (schools in Tanzania), Frances Cantrall (young adult ministry) and Jenny George (in Converge which deals with work and mental health). The next chapter discusses the faith of Australian political leaders – Scott Morrison, John Anderson, Sir Peter Cosgrove and ex-atheist Bill Hayden. The next two chapters deal with Chinese Christianity, the first a general historical and contemporary analysis, whereas the next is largely about Singaporean Roman Catholic George Yeo, a truly impressive figure in the worlds of politics and finance. Among other roles, he was Foreign Minister for seven years, and helped George Pell clean up the Vatican’s finances. He offers brilliant insights into the future of Asia and the future of Christianity in China. Chapter 12 is perhaps the best in part 2. It deals with the leaders of modern Christian missions, three of them Protestants: Sammy Rodriguez (US Hispanic Pentecostal who votes Democrat), Nicky Gumbel of Alpha fame (with a sidebar on his traditionalist Roman Catholic neighbours, Brompton Oratory), Roman Catholic Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne and Lyn Edge of the Salvos. Clearly, Sheridan is an ecumenically minded Roman Catholic. He regards as a Christian anyone “who can recite and believe in the Apostles’ Creed”. This book has some weaknesses but he writes vividly and with conviction. He might be broad-minded, but he certainly makes few concessions to modernist Christianity and secular ideologies.